The landscape of mixed martial arts is constantly shifting. Changes, both big and small, occur with such frequency—and for myriad reasons—that one’s plans become little more than tentative hopes.
It is with this fact in mind that Daniel Cormier should choose his next step wisely.
Given recent performances, the 35-year-old former Olympian would appear to be guaranteed a shot at the light heavyweight title, but they don’t make guarantees like they used to.
Of course, it’s easy to sit on one’s couch and flippantly weigh in on how Cormier should proceed—as I’m doing now—but his path is perhaps less obvious than many seem to think.
Karim Zidan of Bloody Elbow notes that if you ask Dana White—and much of the fanbase—the American Kickboxing Academy standout should remain active while the Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson sequel plays out.
It’s not difficult to understand the UFC president’s perspective.
The organisation’s roster of name talent has been decimated by injuries, not to mention The Ultimate Fighter commitments. The last thing the UFC needs is another prominent name sitting on the shelf until the end of the year.
Cormier’s position is simple, though. At 35, his time in the sport is limited. Accepting any fight, regardless of how winnable it appears, comes with a certain amount of risk.
A momentary loss of concentration, a wild haymaker, and he could find himself dropping out of favour, forced to re-stake his claim to a title shot.
Considering what we witnessed at UFC 173, one should eliminate possibilities of one’s peril. The only sure thing in MMA is that there are no sure things. Take a peek at my predictions record if you need a little supporting empirical evidence.
Cormier has looked so formidable lately that the chances of him slipping up against any potential opponent appear slim, though. Indeed, any fight between now and the end of the year is only likely to boost his stock.
What Cormier doesn’t seem to be taking into consideration is how a lengthy layoff could impact his chances when he does eventually fight for the title.
Generally speaking, it is true enough that a 35-year-old has few opportunities left in the sport. Does he want to flirt with the possibility of turning up to one of said opportunities caked in ring rust?
It almost goes without saying at this point that Rashad Evans should be viewed as a cautionary tale for any fighter who considers sitting on the sidelines until his ticket comes up. Based on recent history, training in MMA is more difficult to negotiate safely than any contracted fight.
Training injuries are so common in the sport that the UFC should perhaps consider a participation bonus for simply showing up on fight night. Every news alert is greeted with a wince, as fans fear that yet another hotly anticipated bout has been lamed by the athletes’ head-scratching training practices.
Any path taken by Cormier requires traversing certain hazards, but the consequences of playing the waiting game are potentially disastrous.
This is the most pivotal moment of his career, and now is not the time to keep the bench warm.